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Fall Creek Hike
pic fall creek 2 n copy


209 staff reporter

Fall Creek is a unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Until a few weeks ago, I knew very little about this place that once had large deposits of limestone and forests of redwoods – the trees were once logged here and made into barrels or fueled the limestone kilns.

The lime created by the release of carbon dioxide from those kilns was used for mortar throughout the state.

I mention that because remnants of the past, from the early 1870s through 1919, are featured along Fall Creek’s canyons consisting of hiking trails with meandering streams, fallen trees, and forested slopes. A good portion of the eight miles or so of a looping hike that took us from Fall Creek Trail to South Fork Trail – that’s where the quarry and kilns are located – along up Cape Horn Trail and Lost Empire Trail.

The latter was a big climb for us – in this case, I was accompanied by Karen, my partner in crime and adventuring out – to about 1,900 feet to the park’s landmark Big Ben Tree.

When I initially read about this place I had her in mind. We’re both active with the outdoorsy stuff and enjoy some quiet time with Mother Nature. Fall Creek Unit offered that and much more.

As  we embarked on this place – from Highway 17 to Scotts Valley, the exit was Mount Hermon Road, going northwest to Graham Hill Road, turning right and going about a half mile past Highway 9 in the town of Felton – the parking lot was tucked away, with no visible signage off this narrow two-lane road.

We decided to take this day hike in the middle of the week, which also meant dealing with some of the Bay Area commuter traffic.

We reached our destination shortly before 10 a.m. with only two other cars in the dirt parking lot. There are no restroom facilities or an information booth with maps. We had to draw our own map using information from the kiosk.

About 90 percent of this hike was shaded – it’s all forest here, with huckleberry, Douglas fir, tanoak, and coast live oak, among others, along the Bennett Creek trailhead.

We came across two other hikers from the onset and didn’t see another soul until the last few miles while heading back to our starting point.

Unlike some hikes, Fall Creek Unit was gorgeous from start as well as the finish. A few times, I found myself in the final few miles uttering, “Wow – I don’t remember seeing that?”

One stretch of the hike had a pathway with elk clover thriving along both sides along the creek.

If you’re looking for a workout, the trail to the Big Ben Tree is a steep climb that left me huffing, puffing, and drenching in sweat.

The entire loop took fewer than four hours. We had enough time in the day to go get cleaned up and grab lunch in downtown Santa Cruz.